Vietnam If Kennedy Had Lived
A filmic examination of "virtual history." What would Kennedy have done in Vietnam if he had lived and been re-elected in 1964?
Directed by Koji Masutani
Produced by Peter Almond, James Blight, Janet M. Lang
Additional Producer: Koji Masutani, David Welch
Co-Producer: Michael Paszt
Editor: Koji Masutani
Director of Photography: Edward Huff, Koji Masutani, Curt Worden
Original Music: Joshua Kern
Photo courtesy of The John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, Boston
At the heart of Virtual JFK is the critical question: Does it matter who is President of the United States when it comes to issues of war and peace? It explores this question by investigating one of the most debated "what if" scenarios in the history of U.S. foreign policy: What would President John F. Kennedy have done in Vietnam if he had not been assassinated in 1963, and had he been re-elected in 1964? The film employs what Harvard historian Niall Ferguson calls "virtual history," assessing the plausibility of counterfactuals -- "what ifs" -- and the outcomes they might have produced.
"A virtuoso performance...a very new way to write history." Ted Widmer, Presidential Historian/Foreign Policy Speechwriter/Senior Adviser to President Clinton (1997-2001)
Drawing on unusual archival footage from presidential libraries and the National Archives, along with newly deciphered audio tapes and other documentary evidence, the film draws our attention to six highly charged crises Kennedy faced in which many, or most, of his advisers counseled war: The Bay of Pigs, The Laos Crisis, the Berlin Crisis, the Showdown over Vietnam, The Cuban Missile Crisis, The Withdrawal from Vietnam.
Note about Rentals: For the time being we are able to fill rental requests for classroom use only. All other requests for screenings will be forwarded to the producer at virtualjfk.com
Grade Level: 10-12, College, Adult
US Release Date: 2009
Copyright Date: 2008
DVD ISBN: 1-59458-871-6
"Virtual JFK is both exciting visually and bold intellectually. It provides a compelling argument about the competing demands on a president facing foreign policy crises, and the essential wisdom of restraint. While it's about President Kennedy's decisions about the use of force, it is striking how timely it is for our current predicaments. Fast-paced and always inventive, Virtual JFK is a must see."
John Tirman, Executive Director, M.I.T. Center for International Studies
"Virtual JFK is an intelligent and provocative study of President Kennedy's views on foreign policy, war and peace. Whether or not one agrees with the conclusion that JFK would have withdrawn from Vietnam if he had lived, this is a first-rate argument."
Richard Reeves, Annenberg School for Communication, University of Southern California, Author, President Kennedy: Profile of Power
"It is important that in times of crisis leaders of great countries think before they shoot. As my father repeated many times, any fool can start a war, but it takes truly wise leaders to avoid war. Virtual JFK is not merely a film, but a critical handbook for current and aspiring world leaders."
Sergei Khrushchev, Son of former Soviet Prime Minister Nikita Khruschchev
"This fascinating documentary covers the supposedly Virtual JFK but it is compelling because it is built on a foundation of fact, brought alive with vivid and well-chosen video clips. This helps bring the Kennedy era alive in a refreshing and thought-provoking way."
Gil Troy, Professor of History, McGill University, Author, Leading from the Center: Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents
"I am ordinarily unimpressed by counter-history, by virtual history. We can each imagine what might have been if...However, Virtual JFK is a compelling examination of the record of John F. Kennedy's 1,000 days in office and the caution with which he approached issues of war and peace. It makes a strong case for presidential leadership and presidential skepticism, [and] having lived through the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis, remembering well when the Berlin Wall went up and having been in Europe when the Berlin Wall was taken down, I was most impressed by all that I saw. This is an important examination of the past, but also a significant lesson for the current commander-in-chief and his predecessor."
Michael Berenbaum, Professor of Jewish Studies, Director, Sigi Ziering Institute, American Jewish University
"An exercise in what historians call counterfactual or virtual history, debating how history would be affected if one significant element had been different. The premise may sound academic but the filmmakers assemble a cohesive set of archival audio and film clips to demonstrate to the viewer Kennedy's resolve to avoid war through diplomacy...Virtual JFK is highly recommended for general interest collections and especially for those strong in the areas of U.S. history, the Vietnam War, and peace and conflict resolution."
Christopher Lewis, American University, Educational Media Reviews Online
"Fascinating...Riveting entertainment and a solid discussion starter; highly recommended for history students and everyone with memories of Vietnam."
Cliff Glaviano, Bowling Green State University, Library Journal
"Virtual JFK offers a wealth of archival material--news footage, stills, recorded conversations, transcripts--as well as recollections from participants and scholars (along with excerpts from three of Johnson's later national addresses about Vietnam as a bonus)...A solid discussion starter. Recommended."
"Virtual JFK is surprisingly dramatic without being overly manipulative...augmented with gripping audio clips and unexpurgated minutes from Situation Room meetings, there emerges the complex image of a clever, sophisticated, disciplined man whose mind remains keen under enormous stress. Given the parallels in persona linking JFK and Barack Obama, there's a teasing implication that crises awaiting the next president will be ripe for similar counterfactual review. The case is persuasive."
Ted Fry, The Seattle Times
"A prime example of the power of the documentary to expose truths and to enhance legends at one and the same time."
Peter Howell, Toronto Star
"A compelling and extremely unusual approach to a possible history."
Atom Egoyan, Academy Award Nominated Director of THE SWEET HEREAFTER
"An extended glimpse into a bygone era of statesmanship. In Masutani's selection of clips, watching Kennedy field astute questions and scathing critiques with thoughtfulness and wit proves extremely illuminating; his weighing of complex factors in an international situation and consciousness of how much rides on his decisions strikes a now unfamiliar note."
Ronnie Scheib, Variety
"A compelling history lesson that offers an insightful primer on the Kennedy presidency even while proving sadly germane to our current times."
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter
"With its fascinating central question and well-chosen, nostalgic footage of John F. Kennedy in his prime, this well-played documentary manages to escape the fate of other dry historical overviews. Filmmaker Koji Matsutani wisely avoids any comparison to the current administration; they'll rise unbidden from your psyche nonetheless."
Sara Cardace, New York Magazine
"Virtual JFK succeeds on the two most important levels: its argument is persuasive, and it works as documentary art. It is an extraordinary portrait of someone thinking, and a president at that."
Normal MacAfee, The Huffington Post
"Elegantly constructed. The question: can an individual leader take a nation to, or keep it from, war? The conclusion: individual temperaments matters, and John F. Kennedy's example proves it...Virtual JFK ponders the mystery of the Kennedy personality mainly as manifested during his televised press conferences -- radiating star power, the coolest man in the room disarms adoring tweedy reporters with his dry martini wit..Masutani's no-frills, largely black-and-white production is as evocative of early-'60s masculine styles as any episode of Mad Men."
J. Hoberman, The Village Voice
"The word 'Iraq' is never uttered, but there's no avoiding it as Kennedy asserts during the Bay of Pigs crisis that to attack Cuba, a country that hadn't attacked the United States, would be contrary to our national tradition. History and current events collide, and the answer to the filmmakers' question is perfectly clear."
Maureen M. Hart, The Chicago Tribune
"We should welcome anything that reacquaints us with the facts, and Virtual JFK is an admirably concrete survey of how Kennedy dealt with a series of international crises."
J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader
"The main question is in the title, and it's a worthwhile pursuit that's certainly proven by this imaginative and fascinating documentary...Well-crafted and timely, Virtual JFK is a great piece of filmmaking."
Garret Conti, Pittsburgh Tribune
"There are few things as genuinely thrilling as a truly well-made documentary...Virtual JFK is that, a masterfully assembled and strenuously researched 'what-if' scenario in film form."
Jason Bailey, DVD Talk
"Koji Masutani's film is an important study in the pressure upon a world leader to wage peace or war. The Cold War and a hot war -- Vietnam -- occurred at the same time and provide good and bad lessons that are relevant to today. The film is a cinematic paean to Benjamin Franklin's words, 'there never was a good war or a bad peace.'"
Lincoln Chafee, Former U.S. Senator (R-RI)
Includes 3 statements from LBJ on the 1966 resumption of bombing of North Vietnam, from his 1967 State of the Union address, and on his 1968 resumption of the bombing of North Vietnam, plus the theatrical trailer, scene selection and SDH captions.
www.virtualjfk.com The film's website
Excellent 16-Page Study Guide
The film's theatrical trailer
Awards and Festivals
Nominated for Special Jury Prize & Best International Feature Documentary, Hot Docs International Documentary Film Festival, Toronto
Golden Palm Award, Mexico International Film Festival
Best Documentary, Fort Myers Beach Film Festival
Honorable Mention, Los Angeles International Film Festival
Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival
Bergen International Film Festival
London International Documentary Film Festival
Honolulu International Film Festival
Tiburon International Film Festival
Philadelphia Independent Film Festival
Interrobang Film Festival
American Artist Film Festival
Maryland International Film Festival
Lucerne International Film Festival
Central America/The Caribbean
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... more Reviews
"Virtual JFK is a virtuoso performance. Using old footage, in-depth interviews, and a close reading of the documentary record, Koji Masutani has come up with a very new way to write history. Getting right with JFK -- as this film does -- is important not only for the sake of the past, but for the sake of the present as well."
Ted Widmer, Presidential Historian/Foreign Policy Speechwriter/Senior Adviser to President Clinton (1997-2001)
"Koji Masutani's film is solidly grounded in scholarly research with a clear-eyed view of the way the world works. By demonstrating JFK's handling of crisis, keeping his own counsel and going against the advice of his senior political and military advisors, the film demonstrates how an effective president operates. The unspoken but clear point that I take away from Virtual JFK is that a president of JFK's caliber would not have taken the country into Iraq."
Mark Garrison, Former U.S. Deputy Ambassador to Moscow
" Virtual JFK does the near impossible by presenting incredibly familiar information in a compelling and entertaining way...[The film] is filled with well-documented facts and a lot of information that many other documentaries simply gloss over. The presentation is accurate and non-biased, making this film a must-see for anyone looking for a new take on the Kennedy presidency."